For parents who crave structure in summer for footloose children, space is still available at a handful of local Jewish day camps for elementary- and middle school-aged youth. Themed, half-day preschool camps at synagogues, though, are filling fast.
New this summer is a camp in Rancho Santa Margarita that is already proving popular. Morasha Jewish Day School will serve as a second site for Silver Gan Israel, the county's largest Jewish day camp, which is organized and operated by Huntington Beach's Hebrew Academy.
By mid-May, 80 children had enrolled for portions of four two-week sessions, June 24-Aug. 16. "I'm blown away," says Rabbi Yossi Mentz, the camp director and Hebrew Academy teacher. "For a first year, that's amazing." About 450 children are expected daily in Huntington Beach.
Above-ground pools are to be installed at Morasha to supplement a camp itinerary that includes sports, drama, art, computers, "mad" science, kick boxing, twice-weekly field trips and Friday Shabbat parties. Older youth can participate in overnight camping trips to Big Bear and Castaic Lake.
Silver Gan Israel costs $320 per session. About $20,000 in partial scholarships were awarded to 100 children last year, Mentz says. In addition, the camp offers $10-per-day bus transportation from locations around the county.
A camp open-house is scheduled June 2 at Morasha and June 9 at Huntington Beach.
Camp Director Rabbi Heidi Cohen says about 60 campers, kindergarten through ninth grade, are expected in each of eight weekly sessions offered at Santa Ana's Camp Sholom, located at Temple Beth Sholom. Two days are spent on theater, sports and arts, with afternoons at a pool; Tuesdays at the beach; Thursdays on a field trip or a mitzvah project; and Fridays on shabbat activities, including a really loud song session. "That's a great way to end the week," says Cohen, who accompanies singers on guitar. Older kids, who spend a week as "counselors in training" or CITs, assist younger kids on projects and games.
Cohen, who leads a circle of prayer, songs and announcements both morning and afternoon, also joins campers for rock-climbing, laser tag and jumps off a high dive. "I think it's important for kids to see a rabbi in this role," she says. "I want my kids to know I'm approachable."
Also planned is an overnight at a park in Yorba Linda. A camp mitzvah project will include selecting, cooking and packaging meals for Ronald McDonald House, where parents stay while their children are at Children's Hospital of Orange County.
Camp Sholom costs $200 per week.
About 75 school-age children are expected at each of four two-week sessions at Camp Haverim, the Jewish Community Center camp in its third year at Irvine's Tarbut v'Torah campus. Each week's activities take a theme such as Israel, carnival and Olympics, says Sari Poremba, the camp director.
Haverim also offers specialty camps in theater, music, amusement park touring and sports, a new offering. On July 17-19, campers will stage a production of "Fiddler on the Roof," with Susanne Levitt, a UC Irvine instructor.
CIT campers receive $100 for their efforts. Most sessions cost $410 per week. The camp holds several fundraisers throughout the summer, last year raising $7,000 towards scholarships for 15 youth.
The smallest day camp is at Tustin's Congregation B'nai Israel, held July 8-Aug. 9. Mondays and Fridays are spent onsite on sports, mitzvah projects, Israeli dancing and cooking, says Barbara Sherman, the camp director. Successive days are spent at the beach, touring, poolside or at an amusement park.
The cost is $175 per week.
Aliso Viejo's Temple Beth El canceled a planned half-day camp for elementary-aged youth for lack of interest, says Linda Kirsch, education director. But the synagogue is holding half-day camps for children 2 to kindergarten age around themes such as reptiles, farms and Judaica, says Terry Fierle, early childhood director.
Little ones will enjoy similar themes at separate half-day preschool camps at Chabad of Laguna Jewish Center in Laguna Beach and the JCC in Costa Mesa. Preschool camps are filled at Newport Beach's Temple Bat Yahm and Mission Viejo's Congregation Eilat.